Husband-and-wife team Jason Alkire and Julie Haus had been working together for over six years on Haus's eponymous collection of contemporary ready-to-wear, but after witnessing the retail success of their small collection of luxury pieces -- appropriately dubbed "Haus Alkire" -- the duo decided to try their hand at the "designer" category. Composed of meticulously-crafted gowns and separates (just wait 'til you hear how much sweat goes into making those prints), the decision has payed off with an Ecco Domani win for womenswear, affording Jason and Julie their first opportunity to do a full-blown Lincoln Center presentation at Fashion Week on Valentine's Day.
You've both been working together on Julie's eponymous collection for the past few years. What made you decide to launch start a new project?
Alkire: A bit of insanity, I guess. When we start our process of doing the contemporary line, we start at a very high level of design, and then we pull things out to make it more contemporary. In a sense, we've been practicing doing this designer line for quite some time, and we've actually been selling it in our boutique ever since it opened, so it was starting to work really well and we sort of looked at each other and it was a no-brainer moment. We were like, "We should just really follow through with this."
Haus: People are still looking for something that is not so trendy, and you know the H&Ms of the world make it so easy to buy the trendy stuff and mix it in that it won't last more than that season ... but we wanted to created something collectible that was not so trendy -- that was still very modern and of the moment."
What are the most significant differences between what you both do for Julie Haus and what you do for Haus Alkire?
Haus: A lot of the garments can be turned inside out and worn because of the way they're built out. For example, we use a laser-cut leather that was lined in distressed silk organza with a digital print. So you can wear it exposed on one side, turn it, and wear the leather on the other.
Alkire: It's sort of like an art project, you know? Like a portfolio piece for me every time I jump into doing a print, or working on the color together. So, in that regard, we have that process for Julie Haus, but it's faster and sort of succinct. This one is really in-depth. We really spent a lot of time figuring out what works between us.
We heard some of the prints are fairly labor-intensive to make. Some are even hand-painted?
Alkire: They are. I'm crazy, I don't know why I do that. Sometimes what you can get on the computer is not exactly ... I guess it's not falling directly into what I want to see. So I've been painting quite a long time, and this is the result of that. I typically start with a photograph -- something that's quick and visual so Julie and I can find a direction and agree on something -- and I may print that out on gelatin or on canvas ... and then I'll hand-paint over the top, and then photograph that if it's really big, or scan it if it's small into the computer, and get to work on it."
Yikes! How long does all that typically take?
Alkire: I guess I've never tried to count. We have different sleeping cycles. I get up at 3 a.m. and I'm just quiet, headphones on, doing my own thing. She's up around 8 a.m. So I've got a whole five hours of quiet time for me …
Haus: And like an old man he falls asleep at 9 p.m.
Alkire: Sometimes ideas come quickly, but the execution can be the longest process. Sometimes vice versa -- it can take weeks to finalize an idea and the execution comes within hours.
Haus: A couple weeks ago, the night before the Ecco Domani award was announced, we couldn't sleep, so we were just laying there, and looked at each other and were like, "Wanna work on some prints? We need some more prints." I think in three hours we did three new prints. There was just so much adrenaline, your mind is going 90 miles an hour ...
Alkire: We came up with three ideas, just to clarify. We didn't actually make three prints in one night. That would be the worst, like, twenty hours ever.
Do you find it challenging or liberating to be working at a "designer" price point?
Alkire: I like "liberating," that's kind of nice. I'm an artist by trade, so I have that little bit of rebellion in me about commercialism and things of that nature. When I can really, whole-heartedly put something into a print and see it come out ... Plus, working with your partner, who is also your wife, and being able to execute something together is really pretty thrilling actually.
Haus: In the designer category, I feel like our buyers are a little more willing to take a risk. There are some great stores out there that will venture out even in the contemporary arena, but in this kind of economy people tend to play it a little safe. It's not so much about the garment design itself, sometimes ... I feel like in the designer world people want something that's different, and are a bit more willing to take a risk.
Congratulations on the Ecco Domani win. How do you think the award will affect the brand -- or has it already?
Haus: It's just night and day.
Alkire: You know, we've been in the fashion business for awhile and we've seen plenty of the winners -- Wang and Rodarte, and so on -- and from a creative or a business view point, it's easy to feel a little bit of envy ... To have that same little asterisk next to our name and some of those people, that's pretty amazing. I mean, the grant is completely wonderful and there's no way we could do anything during fashion week without it, but that's a one day event. The really cool thing is that the little asterisk will be there forever.
Julie: And Ecco Domani is so committed to their program. So many people have had to cut back, but the judges, no matter what was going in their lives, have stayed ... You always want to believe that these judges look at every single garment that comes in from 200 and some applicants, but they really do. That's huge for us, and people follow these judges, press buyers -- it's a huge platform for us.